U.S. Aggression & Propaganda Against Cuba


recent times, U.S.-Cuban relations have gone from bad to worse.
Under the Administration of George W. Bush, the U.S. boycott has
been more stringently imposed. Anti-government agitation within
Cuba has been financed and directed by the U.S. interest section
in Havana. State Department restrictions on travel to the island
have become tighter than ever. Most ominously of all, in early 2003
U.S. pundits began openly talking about invading Cuba—a discussion
that was temporarily put on hold only after the invasion of Iraq
proved so costly. 

over four decades Washington policymakers have treated Cuba with
unrelieved antagonism. U.S. rulers and their faithful acolytes in
the major media have propagated every sort of misrepresentation
to mislead the world as regards their policy of aggression toward
Cuba. Why? 

Defending Global Capitalism 


June 1959, some five months after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution,
the Havana government promulgated an agrarian reform law that provided
for state appropriation of large private landholdings. Under this
law, U.S. sugar corporations eventually lost about 1,666,000 acres
of choice land and many millions of dollars in future cash-crop
exports. The following year, President Dwight Eisenhower, citing
Havana’s “hostility” toward the United States, cut
Cuba’s sugar quota by about 95 percent, in effect imposing
a total boycott on publicly produced Cuban sugar. Three months later,
in October 1959, the Cuban government nationalized all banks and
large commercial and industrial enterprises, including the many
that belonged to U.S. firms. 

move away from a free-market system dominated by U.S. firms and
toward a not-for-profit socialist economy caused it to become the
target of an unremitting series of attacks perpetrated by the U.S.
national security state. These attacks included U.S.- sponsored
sabotage, espionage, terrorism, hijackings, trade sanctions, embargo,
and outright invasion. The purpose behind this aggression was to
undermine the Revolution and deliver Cuba safely back to the tender
mercies of global capitalism. 

U.S. policy toward Cuba has been consistent with its longstanding
policy of trying to subvert any country that pursues an alternative
path in the use of its land, labor, capital, markets, and natural
resources. Any nation or political movement that emphasizes self-development,
egalitarian human services, and public ownership is condemned as
an enemy and targeted for sanctions or other forms of attack. In
contrast, the countries deemed “friendly toward America”
and “pro-West” are those that leave themselves at the
disposal of large U.S. investors on terms that are totally favorable
to the moneyed corporate interests. 

course, this is not what U.S. rulers tell the people of North America.
As early as July 1960, the White House charged that Cuba was “hostile”
to the United States (despite the Cuban government’s repeated
overtures for normal friendly relations). The Castro government,
in Eisenhower’s words, was “dominated by international
communism.” U.S. officials repeatedly charged that the island
government was a cruel dictatorship and that the United States had
no choice but to try “restoring” Cuban liberty.

rulers never explained why they were so suddenly concerned about
the freedoms of the Cuban people. In the two decades before the
Revolution, successive Administrations in Washington manifested
no opposition to the brutally repressive autocracy headed by General
Fulgencio Batista. Quite the contrary, they sent him military aid,
did a vigorous business with him, and treated him well in every
other way. The significant but unspoken difference between Castro
and Batista was that Batista, a comprador ruler, left Cuba wide
open to U.S. capital penetration. In contrast, Castro and his revolutionary
movement did away with private corporate control of the economy,
nationalized U.S. holdings, and renovated the class structure toward
a more collectivized and egalitarian mode. 

to say, the U.S. method of mistreatment has been applied to other
countries besides Cuba. Numerous potentially dissident regimes that
have asked for friendly relations have been met with abuse and aggression
from Washington: Vietnam, Chile (under Allende), Mozambique, Angola,
Cambodia, Nicaragua (under the Sandinistas), Panama (under Torrijo),
Grenada (under the New Jewel Movement), Yugoslavia (under Milosevic),
Haiti (under Aristide), Venezuela (under Chavez), and numerous others.
The U.S. modus operandi is: 

  • heap criticism
    on the targeted government for imprisoning the butchers, assassins,
    terrorists, and torturers of the previous U.S.-backed reactionary

  • denounce the
    revolutionary or reformist government as “totalitarian”
    for failing to immediately institute Western-style, electoral

  • launch ad hominem
    attacks upon the leader, labeling him or her as fanatical, brutal,
    repressive, genocidal, power hungry, or even mentally imbalanced 

  • denounce the
    country as a threat to regional peace and stability 

  • harass, destabilize,
    and impose economic sanctions to cripple its economy 

  • attack it with
    surrogate forces, trained, equipped, and financed by the U.S.
    and led by members of the former regime, or even with regular
    U.S. armed forces 

     Manipulating Public Opinion 


the corporate-owned capitalist press has served in the crusade against
Cuba tells us a lot about why the U.S. public is so misinformed
about issues relating to that country. Following the official White
House line, the corporate news media regularly denies that the United
States harbors aggressive designs against Cuba or any other government.
The stance taken against Cuba, it was said, was simply a defense
against communist aggrandizement. Cuba was repeatedly condemned
as a tool of Soviet aggression and expansionism. But now that the
Soviet Union no longer exists, Cuba is still treated as a mortal
enemy. U.S. acts of aggression—including armed invasion—continue
to be magically transformed into acts of defense. 

the Bay of Pigs. In April 1961, about 1,600 right-wing Cuban émigrés,
trained and financed by the CIA, and assisted by hundreds of U.S.
“advisors,” invaded Cuba. In the words of one of their
leaders, Manuel de Varona (as quoted in the

New York Daily News

January 8, 1961), their intent was to overthrow Castro and set up
“a provisional government” that “will restore all
properties to the rightful owners.” Reports of the impending
invasion circulated widely throughout Central America. In the United
States, however, few people were informed. The mounting evidence
of an impending invasion was suppressed by the Associated Press
and United Press International and by all the major newspapers and
newsweeklies—in an impressively unanimous act of self-censorship. 

Castro’s accusation that U.S. rulers were planning to invade
Cuba was dismissed by the

New York Times

as “shrill…anti-American
propaganda,” and by


magazine as Castro’s “continued
tawdry little melodrama of invasion.” When Washington broke
diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961, the

New York

explained, “What snapped U.S. patience was a new
propaganda offense from Havana charging that the U.S. was plotting
an ‘imminent invasion’ of Cuba.” In fact, the Bay
of Pigs invasion proved to be something more than a figment of Fidel
Castro’s imagination. 

is the predominance of the anti-communist orthodoxy in U.S. public
life that, after the Bay of Pigs, there was a total lack of critical
discussion among U.S. political figures and media commentators regarding
the moral and legal impropriety of the invasion. Instead, commentary
focused exclusively on tactical questions. There were repeated references
to the disappointing “fiasco” and “disastrous attempt”
and the need to free Cuba from the “communist yoke.” It
was never acknowledged that the invasion failed not because of “insufficient
air coverage,” as some of the invaders claimed, but because
the Cuban people, instead of rising to join the counterrevolutionary
expeditionary force as anticipated by U.S. leaders, closed ranks
behind their Revolution.  

the Cuban-exile invaders taken prisoner near the Bay of Pigs (according
to the Cuban government) were people whose families between them
had previously owned in Cuba 914,859 acres of land, 9,666 houses,
70 factories, 5 mines, 2 banks, and 10 sugar mills. They were the
scions of the privileged propertied class of pre-revolutionary Cuba,
coming back to reclaim their substantial holdings. But in the U.S.
media they were represented as dedicated champions of liberty—who
had lived so comfortably and uncomplainingly under the Batista dictatorship. 

would the Cuban people stand by the “Castro dictatorship?”
That was never explained in the United States. Not a word appeared
in the U.S. press about the advances made by Cubans under the Revolution,
the millions who for the first time had access to education, literacy,
medical care, decent housing, jobs with adequate pay and good work
conditions, and a host of other public services—all of which
are far from perfect, but still offer a better life than the free-market
misery endured under the U.S.-Batista régime. 

of the U.S. embargo, Cuba has the highest import-export tonnage
costs of any country in the world, having to buy its school buses
and medical supplies from Japan and other far-off places. Better
relations with the U.S. would bring the Cubans more trade, technology,
and tourism, and the chance to cut their defense expenditures. Yet
Havana’s overtures for friendlier relations have been repeatedly
rebuffed by successive administrations in Washington. 

the U.S. government justifies its hostility on the grounds that
Cuba is hostile toward the United States, what becomes the justification
when the Cuban government tries to be friendly? The response is
to emphasize the negative. Even when reporting the cordial overtures
made by Cuba, U.S. media pundits and Washington policymakers perpetuate
the stereotype of a sinister “Marxist regime” as the manipulative
aggressor. On August 1, 1984 the

New York Times

ran a “news
analysis” headlined “What’s Behind Castro’s
Softer Tone.” The headline suggested that Castro was up to
something. The opening sentence read, “Once again Fidel Castro
is talking as if he wants to improve relations with the United States”
(“as if” not actually). According to the


Castro was interested in “taking advantage” of U.S. trade,
technology, and tourism and would “prefer not to be spending
so much time and energy on national defense.” Here seemed to
be a promising basis for improved relations. Fidel Castro was saying
that Cuba’s own self-interest rested on friendlier diplomatic
and economic ties with Washington and not, as the United States
claimed, on military buildups and aggressive confrontations. Nevertheless,


analysis made nothing of Castro’s stated desire
to ease tensions and instead presented the rest of the story from
the U.S. government’s perspective. It noted that most Washington
officials “seem skeptical…. The Administration continues
to believe that the best way to deal with the Cuban leader is with
unyielding firmness…. Administration officials see little advantage
in wavering.” 

article did not explain what justified this “skeptical”
stance or why a blanket negative response to Castro should be described
as “unyielding firmness” rather than, say, “unyielding
rigidity.” Nor did it say why a willingness to respond seriously
to his overture must be labeled “wavering.” The impression
is that the power-hungry Castro was out to get something from us
but our leaders weren’t about to be taken in. There was no
explanation of what the United States had to lose if it entered
friendlier relations with Cuba.

short, the U.S. stance is immune to evidence. If the Cubans condemn
U.S. aggressions, this is proof of their hostility and diabolic
design. If they act in a friendly manner and ask for negotiated
settlements, showing a willingness to make concessions, then it
is assumed they are up to something and are resorting to deceptively
manipulative ploys. The U.S. position is nonfalsifiable: both A
and not-A become proof of the same thing. 

Double Standard “Democracy” 


policymakers have long condemned Cuba for its controlled press.
The Cubans, we are told, are subjected to a totalitarian indoctrination
and do not enjoy the diverse and open discourse that is said to
be found in the “free and independent” U.S. media. In
fact, the average Cuban has more access to Western news sources
than the average U.S. citizen has to Cuban sources. The same was
true of the former Soviet Union. In 1985 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
pointed out that U.S. television programs, movies, books, music,
and magazines were in relative abundance in the USSR compared to
the almost nonexistent supply of Soviet films and publications in
the United States. He offered to stop jamming Voice of America broadcasts
to his country if Washington would allow normal frequency transmission
of Radio Moscow to the U.S., an offer the U.S. government declined. 

Cuba is bombarded with U.S. broadcasting, including Voice of America,
regular Spanish-language stations from Miami, and a U.S.-sponsored
propaganda station called “Radio Marti.” Havana has asked
that Cuba be allowed a frequency for Cuban use in the United States,
something Washington has refused to do. In response to those who
attack the lack of dissent in the Cuban media, Fidel Castro has
promised to open up the Cuban press to all opponents of the Revolution
on the day he saw U.S. Communists enjoying regular access to the
U.S. major media. Needless to say, U.S. rulers have never taken
up the offer. 

has also been condemned for not allowing its people to flee the
island. That so many want to leave Cuba is treated as proof that
Cuban socialism is a harshly repressive system, rather than that
the U.S. embargo has made life difficult in Cuba. That so many millions
more want to leave capitalist countries like Mexico, Nigeria, Poland,
El Salvador, Philippines, South Korea, Macedonia, and others too
numerous to list is never treated as grounds for questioning the
free-market system that inflicts such misery on the Third World. 

accordance with an agreement between Havana and Washington, the
Cuban government allowed people to leave for the United States if
they had a U.S. visa. Washington had agreed to issue 20,000 visas
a year, but granted few, preferring to incite illegal departures
and reap the propaganda value. Cubans who fled illegally on small
crafts or hijacked vessels and planes were hailed as heroes who
had risked their lives to flee Castro’s tyranny and were granted
asylum in the U.S. When Havana announced it would let anyone leave
who wanted to, the Clinton administration reverted to a closed door
policy, fearing an immigration tide. Now policymakers voiced concerns
that the escape of too many disgruntled refugees would help Castro
stay in power by easing tensions within Cuban society. Cuba is condemned
for not allowing its citizens to leave and then for allowing them
to leave.  

a class perspective, all sorts of experts come to conclusions about
Cuba based on surface appearances. While attending a World Affairs
Council meeting in San Francisco, I heard some participants refer
to the irony of Cuba’s having come “full circle”
since the days before the Revolution. In pre-revolutionary Cuba,
the best hotels and shops were reserved for foreigners and the relatively
few Cubans who had U.S. dollars. Today, it is the same, these experts
gleefully observed. 

judgment overlooks some important differences. Strapped for hard
currency, the revolutionary government decided to take advantage
of its beautiful beaches and sunny climate to develop a tourist
industry. Today, tourism is one of Cuba’s most important sources
of hard currency income, if not the most important. True, tourists
are given accommodations that most Cubans cannot afford. But in
pre-revolutionary Cuba, the profits from tourism were pocketed by
corporations, generals, gamblers, and mobsters. Today the profits
are split between the foreign investors who build and manage the
hotels and the Cuban government. The portion going to the government
helps pay for health clinics, education, machinery, the importation
of fuel, and the like. In other words, the people reap much of the
benefits of the tourist trade—as is true of the export earnings
from Cuban sugar, coffee, tobacco, rum, seafood, honey, nickel,
and marble. 

Cuba were in exactly the same place as before the Revolution, completely
under client-state servitude, Washington would have lifted the embargo
and embraced Havana, as it has done to some degree with China and
Vietnam—both of whom are energetically encouraging the growth
of a low-wage, private investment sector. When the Cuban government
no longer utilizes the public sector to redistribute a major portion
of the surplus to the population, when it allows the surplus wealth
to be pocketed by a few rich corporate owners, and when it returns
the factories and lands to an opulent owning class—as the former
communist countries of Eastern Europe have done—then it will
have come full circle, returning to a privatized, free-market, client-state
servitude. Only then will it be warmly embraced by Washington. 

1994, I wrote a letter to Representative Lee Hamilton, chair of
the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging a normalization of relations
with Cuba. He wrote back that U.S. policy toward Cuba should be
“updated” in order to be more effective and that “we
must put Cuba in contact with the ideas and practice of democracy…and
the economic benefits of a free market system.” The embargo,
Hamilton went on, was put in place to “promote democratic change
in Cuba and retaliate for the large-scale seizure of American assets
by the Castro regime.” 

to say, Hamilton did not explain why his own government—which
had supported a pre-revolutionary dictatorship in Cuba for generations—was
now so insistent on installing U.S.-style democracy on the island.
The revealing thing in his letter was his acknowledgment that Washington’s
policy was dedicated to advancing the cause of the “free market
system” and retaliating for the “large-scale seizure of
American assets.” 

who do not believe that U.S. rulers are consciously dedicated to
the propagation of capitalism should note how policymakers explicitly
press for “free-market reforms” in one country after another
(including today in Serbia and Iraq). We no longer have to impute
such intentions to them. Almost all their actions and—with
increasing frequency—their own words testify to what they have
been doing. When forced to choose between democracy without capitalism
or capitalism without democracy, U.S. rulers unhesitatingly embrace
the latter—although they also prefer the legitimating cloak
of a limited and well-controlled “democracy” when possible. 

this should remind us that the greatest enemies of peace and democracy
are not in Havana; they are in Washington.


Michael Parenti’s
most recent books are

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

(2003) and